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Syria Today – U.S. Troops Injured; Jordan Downs Drone; Iraq Calls for al-Hol Closure

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – U.S. Troops Injured; Jordan Downs Drone; Iraq Calls for al-Hol Closure

Twenty-two U.S. service members sustained injuries in a helicopter incident in northeastern Syria on Sunday. The military, however, did not disclose the cause of the mishap or provide details regarding the severity of the injuries.

In a separate development, the Jordanian army announced that it had successfully intercepted a drone carrying drugs from Syria into its northern frontier region. Jordan emphasized its stance of not allowing the border area to become a battleground for an Iran-linked drug war.

Regarding the situation in north-east Syria, Iraq has called upon nations to repatriate their citizens currently held in a notorious detention camp associated with Daesh. Iraq also called for the closure of the camp due to ongoing concerns that it serves as a breeding ground for terrorism.

Twenty-two U.S. troops injured in Syria helicopter mishap, U.S. says

Reuters reported that twenty-two U.S. service members were injured in a helicopter “mishap” in northeastern Syria on Sunday, the U.S. military said late on Monday, without disclosing the cause of the incident or detailing the severity of the injuries.

U.S. Central Command said 10 service members were evacuated to higher-level care facilities outside the region.

Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops in the Middle East, said no enemy fire had been reported but added that the cause of the incident was under investigation.

Officials at U.S. Central Command did not immediately respond to requests for further information.

The incident took place near the town of Shaddadi in the province of Hasakeh, according to two security sources.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which control swathes of northeast Syria, referred questions to the U.S.-led coalition under which American troops are deployed in the zone.

Mekdad to Asharq Al-Awsat: Syria Seeks Integration with Saudi Arabia

Faisal al-Mekdad, the Syrian foreign minister, said that his country has made hundreds of steps with regard to what is required of it, but did not receive any initiative from the other parties, calling for the need to show good intentions and stop starving the Syrian people, as he put it.

Speaking on the sidelines of the second ministerial meeting of the Arab League countries and the nations of the Pacific Islands, held in Riyadh, Mekdad saluted the effective role of Saudi Arabia, led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, to strengthen intra-Arab relations and cooperation with influential countries around the world.

In response to a question by Asharq Al-Awsat about the outcome of the recent Arab summit held in Jeddah, and the “step-by-step” policy, the minister said: “The results of the summit were good and accurate, with regard to us in Syria. I assure you that we have walked hundreds of steps, for which we have not received any step from the other parties.”

He continued: “Therefore, the other parties are now required to show good intentions, to stop supporting terrorism and starving the Syrian people and children, and (instead) contribute to the new renaissance of the Syrian people.”

Explaining what he means by “other parties”, Mekdad said they are the parties “behind terrorism, the killings, sedition, the division and fragmentation”, of Syria.

He expressed Syria’s readiness to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in all fields.

“We are happy to be in Saudi Arabia. There are very large activities… including the Arab-Chinese Forum and the meeting of the nations of the Pacific Islands. We salute this effective role of the Kingdom, and the goals set by the Saudi leadership to strengthen intra-Arab relations and bilateral Arab relations with influential countries in the world,” he said, adding that “we are ready to cooperate in various fields.”

Russian fighter killed in northern Syria -monitor, security source

A Russian fighter was killed and several others wounded in Syria’s northern province of Aleppo on Monday, a war monitor and a Kurdish security source said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria, said the Russian casualties occurred when their convoy was hit by Turkish shelling.

The security source said the attack came from an area where Turkish troops are deployed and that the wounded were treated in a hospital in a nearby area controlled by Kurdish forces.

Jordanian army says it downs drone carrying drugs from Syria

The Jordanian army said on Tuesday it had downed a drone carrying drugs from Syria into its northern frontier region, and it said Jordan would not allow the border area to become a front line in an Iran-linked drug war, Reuters reported.

The kingdom has blamed pro-Iranian militias, who it says are protected by units within the Syrian army, for smuggling drugs across its borders towards lucrative Gulf markets.

Damascus says it is doing its best to curb smuggling and continues to bust smuggler rings in the south. It denies complicity by Iranian-backed militias linked to its army and security forces.

The sharp rise in smuggling attempts has forced Jordan since last year to change army rules of engagement along the border, giving its military the authority to use overwhelming force.

“We are continuing to deal with resolve and force with any threat to our borders and any attempt to destabilize the security of the nation,” the army said in a statement.

The plane, which was carrying crystal methamphetamine, was intercepted and downed on Jordan’s side of the border, it said.

Time for European nations to review their Syria policies

Saudi Columnist Mohammed Al-Sulami wrote an op-ed for Arab News, in which he called on European officials to present concrete diplomatic paths to end the conflict and find a way out of the crisis.

The op-ed says the relationship between European capitals and Syrian activists plays a crucial role in understanding the difficulty of reconciliation between them and the Syrian authorities. Syrian associations recently formed a common platform in Paris to advocate for a “democratic Syria.” This aspiration is mainly expressed by Syrian opposition activists based in Europe. Additionally, the geopolitical context, particularly Russia’s alliance with Damascus and the situation in Ukraine, makes Brussels-Damascus reconciliation unfavourable.

Europe aims for a political solution in Syria based on a compromise between the government and the opposition in exile. Justice for the oppressed Syrian people is also a priority. While Europe has consistently sought an alternative to Bashar Assad’s rule, there has been some flexibility during the fight against Daesh and after the recent earthquake in Syria.

Although sanctions relief was provided for humanitarian assistance, the columnist added, European countries have not taken the initiative to reopen their embassies in Syria, except for the Czech Republic. Some limited diplomatic presence has been established by countries like Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, and Greece. However, major European nations remain reluctant to reopen their diplomatic facilities due to escalating tensions with Russia.

It appears that the desire to build geopolitical blocks outweighs the perspective of seeking regional solutions through dialogue. By supporting Syrian civil society activists and opposing Damascus alongside Russia, Europeans aim to save face and persuade regional partners to form a coalition against Russia.

The new regional dynamics do not align with European views on the Syrian crisis. Beyond symbolic support and humanitarian aid, European capitals have little to offer the Syrian people, who face economic despair and a dire security situation. A policy solely focused on rejecting the Assad regime is insufficient to resolve the security crisis or provide a solution for the Syrian people. Hence, it is time for European capitals to review their Syria policies.

In 2023, policies centred solely on opposing Assad cannot offer a solution for Syria. Revisiting the Syrian situation requires difficult compromises to address the country’s economic problems, considering the socioeconomic desperation of its people. The new European policy for Syria should not be a mere facade to display hostility towards Russia in the context of the Ukraine conflict. European capitals can take inspiration from Arab states in seeking a new modus vivendi with the Syrian authorities to effectively tackle regional economic and security challenges.

To date, Sulami concluded, European officials have not presented a concrete diplomatic path or suitable proposal to end the Syrian war. After 12 years of conflict, a new policy is needed to find a way out of the Syrian crisis.

Iraq calls for Closure of Daesh detention camp in Syria

Iraq has called for countries to repatriate their citizens held at a notorious Daesh detention camp in north-east Syria and for the camp to be closed. Concerns persist that it has become a “source for terrorism”.

Al-Hol camp is named after a town near the Iraq-Syria border. It houses tens of thousands of people linked to Daesh, which lost its last territorial foothold in Syria in 2019.

“Ending the issue of Al Hol camp has become a top national interest for Iraq,” Iraq News Agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Sahhaf as saying. “All countries that have citizens at Al Hol should repatriate them as soon as possible in order to eventually close the camp. It has become a dangerous epicentre for Daesh gatherings.”

His comments were made during a conference in Baghdad yesterday, which included the UN representative in Iraq, members of the international coalition against Daesh and several ambassadors, as well as NGOs.

According to AP, the camp holds about 51,000 people, the vast majority of them women and children, including the wives, widows and other family members of Daesh fighters, mostly Syrians and Iraqis. There are also around 8,000 women and children from 60 other nationalities who live in a part of the camp known as the Annex, which is considered to be home to the most die-hard Daesh supporters among the camp’s residents.

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein revealed that Iraq has repatriated over 3,000 Daesh fighters from Syria to be tried in local courts.

Celebrities call on the UK government to repatriate British families

Meanwhile, celebrities in the UK have signed an open letter calling on the government to repatriate British families remaining in prison camps across northeast Syria, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.

Signatories include Gillian Anderson, Stephen Fry, Olivia Colman, Riz Ahmed, Stanley Tucci and Jonathan Pryce, along with NGOs including Human Rights Watch and War Child UK.

Conservative peer Sayeeda Warsi and several national security experts also signed the letter, which calls for the rescue of about 25 families, including 60 children, many of whom are younger than 10.

The families were detained in the camps following the collapse of Daesh almost four years ago, with many of the mothers having been married to fighters from the terror group.

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